TV deaths shouldn’t affect me the way they do. But, they do so I decided to write about some of the most devastating TV deaths I’ve ever seen. I’m probably going to cry while writing this. I know. I can hear you muttering under your breath, “That’s stupid, Phill.” Yes, it is. What’s your point? When I watch TV shows or movies, I want to become emotionally invested. And if the show or movie in question does its job, I connect to the characters nearly as strongly as I do with actual human beings. For example, one of these deaths affected me so strongly that I stopped watching the show for nearly two years before finally coming back to it. Like I said, I’m ridiculous and stupid. Stop making fun of me and just deal with it in whatever way you deem best, as long as it doesn’t include mocking me and my sensitive nature.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will anyway: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD. Do not read any of these if you have not watched these shows or you simply don’t care about massive, game-changing deaths being ruined for you. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Do not read this unless you’ve seen these shows. I will give ample warnings before each death so you know to stop reading.
I’m going to cheat a little with my first selection. This is actually two TV deaths that, taken together, create a devastating punch to the gut. For those who do not know, Downton Abbey is a period drama set in the early decades of the 20th century. The show follows the lives of the aristocracy as well as their household servants.
For the first part of the gut punch we have the death of Lady Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown Findlay), the youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham. Sybil is a kind, caring, and loving soul. She is newly married, choosing a man well below her rank because she truly loves him and does not care about any other considerations. She is also a new mother, just having given birth to a healthy baby girl. It is then that tragedy strikes. Sybil dies shortly after the birth of her first and only child, leaving behind a grief-stricken husband, family, and household. Even the scheming and conniving servants, Thomas Barrow and Sarah O’Brien are devastated; a clear sign of how special Sybil was.
Yet, that is not the end of our grief. Only a few episodes later, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), heir to Lord Grantham, husband to Lady Mary Crawley, and brand new father, dies in a tragic car accident. For many fans of the show, this was the moment they gave up on Downton Abbey. It was too much. Too much sadness. Too much grief. For what its worth, I did find it difficult to continue watching, though I’m glad I did. The deaths of Sybil and Matthew reverberate throughout the series, touching character’s lives and affecting their actions and decisions. In the annals of TV deaths, these two are as devastating as they get.
Breaking Bad is one of the greatest TV dramas of all time. It’s expertly plotted, intense, and full of twists and turns. It features one of the best performances ever, with Brian Cranston creating an iconic character in Walter White. Breaking Bad tells the story of a middle-aged science teacher, who upon receiving a devastating and life-altering medical diagnosis, slowly descends into a life of crime, murder, and lies. It’s dark and riveting stuff from the first episode until the climactic final scenes.
Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is Walter White’s brother-in-law. He is a DEA agent. There are very few characters in any show I’ve seen that are as well-developed and fully realized as Hank. When we first meet him, he appears to be a loud, obnoxious, male chauvinist. The more time we spend with him, the more we realize that at his heart, he is an honest, hard-working, loving, and noble man. Yes, he has his rough edges, but they only add color to an already perfectly developed character. When things got too dark or too intense, Hank is the reason I kept watching.
Over the course of the series, Hank slowly starts to connect the dots and comes to realize that Walter is the drug kingpin he has been chasing for years. Eventually, Hank confronts Walter, and it is an incredibly written and performed scene. Hank still does not have enough evidence to arrest Walter, which leads to a final, deadly sequence of events in the desert. Hank is shot and killed by men who Walter is in business with. Never once does Hank back down or beg for his life. While Walter, the protagonist of the show, cowers and begs in fear, Hank stares down the horrible men and refuses to give them any satisfaction at all. It’s heartbreaking. It also sends Walter spiraling to his lowest point. It felt inevitable that Hank would pay for Walter’s sins, but that doesn’t mean I am happy about it.
Lost is one of my five favorite TV shows of all-time. Most people when they think of Lost, think of the puzzles, the mystery, and the crazy mind-bending storyline. And those are great, no debate here. But, when I think of Lost, I think of the characters. Using detailed flashbacks, the show develops characters in ways most other shows simply don’t. By the end of the show’s run, the audience truly cares about these characters we have gotten to know so well.
Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan) is a stand-out in the early seasons of Lost. He is charming and funny, yet still with hints of darkness and complexity of character. Some of the most memorable episodes revolve around Charlie, both his on Island life as well as his life before the Island. It’s no surprise that his death, near the end of Season 3, is as powerful and as impactful as it is. It also reframes the plot in a way that no one anticipated. Charlie sacrifices his life to send a message to his friends. His final moments could have been full of fear but his efforts to help his friends allow him to go peacefully and on his own terms.
The Walking Dead
Of all these shows I’m writing about, The Walking Dead will likely be the hardest sell for our audience. It’s a zombie apocalypse show that is violent, gory, and unforgiving. I recently started watching the show with my middle son and I told him from the outset to not get too attached to any of the characters. Of course, he didn’t heed my advice, but then again, neither did I.
The Walking Dead is filled with memorable characters. Some good, honest, and decent people. Some bad, terrible and vicious. Some in between, broken and flawed and completely human. Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) is the best of them. He is brave, caring, hopeful, and intensely loyal. We first meet Glen at the end of the very first episode, though it’s only his voice we hear over a walkie-talkie. From that point on, Glenn becomes one of the lead characters on the show and a fan favorite.
Characters die in The Walking Dead. In fact, most of the characters the show introduces end up dead. It’s just that type of show. It can be exhausting but to maintain the realism of the show’s concept, nothing else would work. Glenn’s death was not exactly a surprise to fans of the show; the graphic novel the show is based on kills off his character as well. But, even knowing his death was coming, does nothing to lessen its impact. In the first episode of Season seven, Glenn is executed in front of his pregnant wife and many of his friends and to this day, I’ve only seen the episode once because I haven’t had the heart to go back and watch it again. That will change soon because I will be watching it with my son. Spoiler alert! His favorite character is Glenn too. It’s going to be a difficult day in the Lytle household after we finish that episode.
Many fans of the show checked out after Glenn’s death. I admit, I did too for a time. (This is the show I referenced in my introduction.) I came back eventually and I’m glad I did. While Glenn’s death was terrible and at the time, felt almost too sadistic, it reverberates throughout the show, affecting so many other characters. Glenn died way too young and his sense of hope and integrity is missed, but other characters slowly begin to pick up where he left off. That is a great legacy for a TV character to have.
As I was planning this article, I mentally worked my way through every TV death that has affected me. Believe me, that took me more time than I care to admit. There are many that I didn’t include in this article. If this connects with our audience, I plan to revisit this topic down the road and talk about some more TV deaths that devastated me. Thanks for reading and be sure to tell us about which TV deaths affected you the most. I do have one request, though. Please put the title of the show first so that other readers will know if they should avoid the comment.